let's backup for a second - alex grew up down the street from jordan, so they've been best buds since they were little. alex married a girl named kayla (conveniently enough) about a month before jordan and i got married, and they were our first married friends! so anyway, alex's mom is from japan, he spent some time living there as an exchange student growing up, served his lds mission in tokyo, and speaks japanese in his home - so although he is technically an american, he might as well be a local.
having a local with you who speaks the language, understands the culture, and can make recommendations everywhere is the BOMB. it takes travel experiences from amazing to mind-blowing. it is so neat to get a real-life local experience, where you feel like you are doing things that are culturally significant and taking a look into the actual culture of a place, rather than just the tourist culture. this experience is very rare and i am so grateful for it.
i really cannot give alex (and kayla!) a big enough shout-out for this trip. kayla went out of her way to make us traditional japanese breakfasts each morning, (thick toast, rice, soup, sausage, eggs, fruit, and seaweed) and she was so helpful in giving us a more american reference point as to what foods we would like, and what foods would maybe be a little too out of our comfort zone. alex spoke to everyone wherever we went, ordered food for us, and was our ever-present tour guide, as he is very educated on japanese culture and traditions.
our favorite memories from tokyo:
>>> we spent some time in asakusa, a district in tokyo that is famous for this huge temple with a giant lantern - it is straight out of a disney movie!! we blessed different parts of our bodies with smoke, tried mini waffles filled with black bean paste (sounds gross, actually delish) this amazing mango bread, and mini mochi's covered in pb dust stuff. (that's the best way to describe it.) there is street-shopping by the temple, and we learned here that is rude in japanese culture to eat in public while walking on the street, on the train, etc. when we bought our street food, we would go back behind the store - they have little tables set up so you can eat your food and then go back out on the street. super interesting, considering my eating is almost exclusively done on-the-go haha.
>>> took a boat ride down the sumida river and admired all of the colorful bridges of tokyo - seriously, one in every color.
>>> ate at the hello kitty cafe! the boys were a little neutral on this choice but i loved it! when i was 7, my grandpa was a mission president in korea, another place where hello kitty is huge. (we also had a japanese foreign exchange student around that same time who showered us with hello kitty gifts.) i lived for packages from my grandparents during those years, they were always filled with hello kitty stickers and purses and stationary, so the eight year old in me was having a hay-day. everything in there was SO DARLING.
>>> went to an english ward in the city and admired the tokyo lds temple.
>>> spent a day in kamakura, which used to be the center of medieval japan. it's here that you can see the big, green buddha (which is still standing after a tsunami during the 15th century) TONS of temples, and my favorite shrine - the zeniarai benzaiten ugafuku shrine. (nope, no idea how to say that.) it's located in a cave, and the spring inside the cave is supposed to multiply your money if you wash it there. kamakura just had a very ancient, old-word-y vibe to it and it was such a fun place to wander.
>>> traditional ramen was my favorite of all the japanese food, but my second favorite was at a korean bbq place across the street from kayla and alex's apartment. i wish i remembered what it was called, but i literally don't even have the slightest clue to google it. our table was a grill, and the waiter just brought out our meal on a giant spatula, flipped it onto the table-grill, cracked an egg over it, and we ate up! it was some sort of mixture of noodles, pork, veggies, and this fabulous japanese mayo-type sauce that again, i can't remember the name of. i'm sure my descriptions are really making you wish you were in japan right now, huh? (i also tried squid at this restaurant, never again.)
>>> shibuya crossing, the busiest crosswalk in the world, was fascinating. we sat at a starbucks above the madness and just watched as the light turned green and all the little ant-people flooded the street. it was raining that day, too - so you couldn't even see heads, just thousands of umbrellas bobbing around and bumping into each other.
>>> HARAJUKU!! this is the center of japanese youth culture and fashion. every food sold here has a cute face on it, most of the workers wear costumes and bright wigs, storefronts are covered in cartoon characters and everything is pastel colored. oh, and HUGE platform shoes EVERYWHERE. it's like cutesy-ness to the MAX. (the best were the tennis shoes with bunny ears on them in my opinion.)
>>> tokyo tower. it's actually quite a bit taller than the eiffel tower and it's orange, but it was lit up blue at night when we were there. pretty dang cool.
>>> on our last night, we went to the top of the tokyo skytree, the tallest building in tokyo. (google photo below for reference.) it was a little foggy that day, but you could still see FOREVER and i am such a sucker for a good view! i still can't even wrap my head around how massive this city is because you literally couldn't see the end of the city in any direction. (as a reference point, nyc's population is 9 million and tokyo's is 40 million.) we watched the sun go down and the city light up and it was the perfect note to end on.
>>> we loved just hanging out with some of our BFF's on the other side of the world, that was just cool! we stayed up way too late every night going through the pictures from the day and laughing our heads off at the stupidest things. one day while at a train station, we were trying to throw a water bottle into an upright garbage can that had a hole juuuust big enough for the bottle to fit through. we all took turns, and after a few minutes a small crowd gathered to watch us. alex finally made it in and everyone in the station clapped and cheered as he took a victory lap. it was HILARIOUS and one of my favorite memories of my life.
>>> ate at shake shack because #priorities. it's just as good on the other side of the world!
>>> jordan (and me, too but especially him) was drawn to the organization, cleanliness, and social order of the culture. i didn't see a single piece of litter anywhere, everywhere smelled clean, and for heavens sake the people form a single-file line to get on the subway. a single file line!! nobody pushes or shoves or cuts in line. it's almost like they've realized it's BETTER to do it that way! (take notes, usa!) our favorite thing was the escalators, though. if you are standing on the escalator, you always always always stand on the left side. if you have to wait in line to get on the escalator, you do it but you NEVER stand on the right side. that is reserved for people in a hurry, and they always have a clear path. this struck me as so peculiar, but makes so much sense.
>>> so obviously the bidets were niiiiiice. but it's so weird to me that toilets there are either a squatter, or a nice expensive luxurious experience? no in between.
>>> so many people have tiny dogs in japan, and they love to dress them up in hats and vests and other paraphernalia. like i want to roll my eyes but it's just so dang cute!!!!! examples:
and now for a disgusting amount of photos:
and now for a disgusting amount of photos:
|a random three-story tall robot outside of the mall|
|hello kitty mochi!|
|eating some of the crazy flavors of ice cream - mine was fresh white peach, jordan's was caramel custard and alex's was something gross that he only liked bc he is japanese haha|
|this hideous piece of architectural decoration behind us is affectionately known as "the golden poop"|
|every day kayla and i would get home and find about 300 random pictures like this one (or pictures of the back of our heads) taken throughout the day by our husbands. alex said they were just "documenting our memories" hahahaa|
|please ignore my face, this statue of liberty replica + the bridge was pretty cool.|
|me being sacrilegious and asking if i should drink the cleansing water, i think i'm funny|
|japanese curry! so delicious!|